DVD Review - Desert Flower

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, news spread about a tradition in certain countries in Africa or Asia that's now described as female genital mutilation (FGM). Some people in those countries who defend it might argue that it's not unlike male circumcision, which is widely accepted, not only in Africa and Asia but the Americas and Europe. A baby boy or some times a boy who is much older has his genital literally cut. Countries that practice FGM refer to it as a simple cutting as well. Yet, as depicted in this movie, the cutting is a much more brutal and violent act, and usually male circumcisions don't result in the death of a child. FGM can and many times do result in death, and while the World Health Organization has cited some health benefits to male circumcision, it's made no such pronouncements about FGM.

Desert Flower is the story of Waris Dirie, a young Somali girl who escaped her native land but not before she was a victim of FGM. When it became obvious that she was nothing more than property to be sold by her parents, Waris fled. With no money, no water, no food, and no shoes, she fled, crossing the desert of Somalia all by herself. How she did it and how she went from homeless beggar on the streets of London to a world-renown fashion model is the subject of her autobiography, which writer-director Sherry Horman adapted into this film.

Ethiopian model Liya Kebede plays Waris, an illegal immigrant who can't speak English, sleeps on the streets and rummages through dumpsters for food. She is scolded by Marylin, an aspiring ballet dancer, played by Sally Hawkins. While Kebede is a beautiful and tall, fresh face to film, Hawkins was the star of the Oscar-nominated Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), which since has secured her gigs in many great movie productions.

Waris and Marylin meet, not on the best of terms, but the two do befriend each other, each probably recognizing in the other a desperate hunger for a better life. The two end up helping each other. Marylin especially gets Waris a place to live and a job. Granted that the job is at a burger joint, it's still better than nothing.

While in London, Waris would then meet a series of people who would change her outlook and offer her opportunities. They include a photographer, played by Timothy Spall, and a modeling agent, played by Juliet Stevenson. Both Spall and Stevenson are accomplished, British actors. Neither of their characters truly scare Waris. Yes, she's a meek and mild woman when around them or anyone, but they don't scare her like Harold Jackson, played by Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker).

Harold Jackson is a New Yorker who briefly visits London and who just happens to see Waris. For both of them, there is an immediate attraction, which is why it's scary for her. While her feelings may draw her to him to kiss and to love him, opening herself up and truly revealing herself in a sexual way would also reveal her shame.

It's a secret shame not only for her but from where she comes. FGM shames young girls. It shames them into being scared of sex, scared of not only their bodies but of the bodies of men. The filmmakers here capture that beautifully or as beautifully as something this ugly can be captured. Kebede is gorgeous both inside and out, and filmmaker Horman handles the material here honorfully.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for a scene of sexuality, some violent content and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.


Popular Posts